It’s our Champions League final to quote Paolo Di Canio and victory would make us safe without having to rely on others. Saints are a point better off so can also ensure Premier survival. Chris Rann*, another of Monsieur Salut’s fellow-contributors at ESPNFC.com, does the honours with a wide-ranging interview charting Southampton’s astonishing ups and downs, SuperKev’s less-than-super status among Saints fans and his dwindling attachment to the international game …
Salut! Sunderland: Nicola Cortese became a football hate figure when he fired Nigel Adkins, who had done so well for Southampton. You’ve done better since, with hiccups, under Mauricio Pochettino and are probably no more than a point from safety. Everyone happy?
Well yes, we were…. Recent results have dragged us right back into the fight, and that important last point has evaded us. On the whole though I think ‘MoPo’ has won people round, the football is exciting and pretty and we have caused some very good teams a lot of problems. Nicola Cortese will always have his doubters, but as rash as they may seem at first sometimes, it is hard to argue that they are usually proved to be correct.
And what’s the new man’s English like now?
I think the media made too big a deal out of this. His English is better than advertised. He speaks to the players in English, he just doesn’t feel comfortable in front of the media just yet. On the pitch it doesn’t appear to have been a problem.
Realistically, what can Southampton hope for in the coming seasons and do you feel the Cortese-Pchettino tandem is there for the longish haul?
I think the sky is the limit if we secure our Premier League status. Mr Cortese’s ambitions are big, and he is prepared to invest to make them possible. There is talk of European football, which is admittedly a little premature right now, but with our Academy setup we are looking to emulate the likes of Barcelona long term. The relationship between the chairman and manager will be just like that of Pardew and Adkins I’m sure, when Mr. Cortese believes they no longer fit the direction of the club they will go.
Are you old enough to have experienced the McMenemy era of Keegan, Channon, George, Wallace, Shilton etc and what does it mean in Saints folklore?
I’m not, but for sure they are all names synonymous with everything that is great about our club. The signing of Keegan is still up there as one of the biggest ‘coups’ in football transfer history and I’ve heard a million legends about it, the main one being that Lawrie McMenemy locked him in the toilet with contract and said he could come out once it was signed. It is one of the biggest mysteries in football as to how we have managed to avoid a spell with Keegan as manager.
And later you went from the Le Tissier era, with co-starring roles for Beattie and our own hero Kevin Phillips and the discovery of men like Theo Walcott and Gareth Bales to decline and administration. How surreal did that feel?
My first experiences as a Saints fan were the Ian Branfoot era, so I knew what I was letting myself in for. I’ve watched a lot of fantastic players start playing for us as kids and soon move on, but life is all about yin and yang, and at the same time I witnessed one of the most talented footballers of his generation play for us week in week out for over 10 years, when he could have gone on to bigger and better things at any point. I genuinely believe we have the best Academy in the country, we just have to get to the point where we keep the players rather than profit from them. The fall and rise over 2005 – 2012 has been crazy. Difficult to put into words. I wouldn’t wish the fall on our worst enemy (and Pompey need no help in that area), but I would rank the rise as some of my happiest years. Phillips wasn’t much of a hero here I’m afraid.
From this list of stars and other unmentioned, who is/are the greatest player/s you’ve seen, or wish you’d seen, in Saints colours – and who should have been allowed nowhere earn them?
Le Tiss goes without saying, Marian Pahars was one of my personal favourites as well as one season wonder Ronnie Ekelund. Having seen him for Chelsea though, Rudd Gullit is the best I have ever seen in the flesh. So far ahead of anything we had in the Premier League at the time. If I started to list the rubbish I have seen for Saints it would take me weeks, but stand out mentions for Allan Bennett, Darren Kenton, Rory Delap, Callum Davenport and Olivier Bernard!
If not already discussed, what have been your own highs and lows while supporting Southampton?
I loved watching Saints under Alan Ball and Glenn Hoddle, two managers who left too soon. The last few years since we were taken over by Markus Liebherr have been great too, the highs since 2010 have been incredible, and truly appreciated after the previous five years of absolute failure. I’ll never take for granted Premier League football again. You have to have experienced that level of destruction to realise just how privileged you are to be playing in the big league. I wouldn’t change one minute of it. We are an unknown quantity now, and people are scared of that.
See all Salut! Sunderland’s articles recalling May 5 1973 and the run that took SAFC to FA Cup glory: https://safc.blog/category/fa-cup/may-5-1973/
We know who are the champions? But who’s going down with Reading and QPR?
Who knows? Every time I run the Premier League Predictor it ends with a different team going down. This morning it was Norwich. I have a sneaky feeling for Newcastle too.
Guess the Score and maybe win a life-changing prize, or a mug, at https://safc.blog/2013/05/guess-the-score-as-safcsouthampton-stoke-fulham-aston-villa-newcaste-norwich-wigan-fight-drop/
Any impressions of Sunderland – the club, the fans, the region?
I don’t know room much of the region if I’m honest, but I’ve been to the Stadium of Light a few times, both for Saints games and England. I like the stadium, and I like the atmosphere of the home crowd, and I’ve always had a top time there. I always tend to base myself in Newcastle though. Sorry.
And is there any player in our current squad you’d welcome ay St Mary’s?
I like the look of your keeper Mignolet and Sessegnon most, and I still think Adam Johnson has a lot of potential to fill.
Has cheating become so commonplace that we should stop whining and accept it as part of the modern game? If not, which form most annoys you and how would you stamp it out?
The diving is a big problem now, and the worst thing about it is that fans accept it from their own players, then scream blue murder if an opposition player does it. There isn’t a club out there who don’t have at least one player who likes a tumble. We have and Lallana and Rodriguez do it this year, but while their own fans defend them they won’t stop. It is part of the game now, and I don’t see a way back, but referees have to be stronger, or there should be retrospective action.
What single step should Saints or the football authorities take to make the experience of football better for the average fan?
Reduce the price of match tickets. It is out of control, and some of the costs for a single game is horrific. Saints aren’t actually too bad compared to some, but people are being priced out of going. It’s the national game, but most people can’t afford to go on a regular basis, and the decision by some clubs to charge away fans more than home fans for the same game doesn’t sit well with me at all.
The club versus country debate. Who wins for you and why?
I used to go an watch England a lot between 2001 and 2006, and then I would say it was pretty equal, but I’ve steadily lost faith in a national team full of overrated prima donnas who play for their country as some sort of status necessity rather than through any sort of pride. Now it is 100 per cent club for me, I will still watch England on the TV, but I care very little whether they win or lose. The level to which we overrate our staggeringly mediocre players is annoying, and their ability wouldn’t even matter if they cared but they don’t. We have had a succession of poor managers and disappointing groups of players. I’m done with it. We should have built a team round Paul Scholes and not played him on the wing….
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
I won’t I’m afraid and score predictions are not my forte, but I will have some faith (blind optimism) and go for a 1-1 draw, the point which should make us safe.
* Chris Rann on himself: I first went to watch Saints in the 1991/92 season and I was soon an ‘addict’, I started writing about Saints in 2010 and also became addicted to that. I now write about Saints for my own site http://georgeweahscousin.com, ESPN and Metro. Having served in the Army and worked for a worldwide sports event, I am currently writing a book about the hopelessness of following a football team from various random world locations!
Interview: Colin Randall